Deep Dive into Descent Into Avernus

The seeds for Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus were planted in last year's release, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (MToF). At the time, D&D Lead Designer Jeremy Crawford described the theme of that book as “conflict” and the chapter on the Blood Wars between devils and demons in the D&D multiverse is the foundation for Descent Into Avernus.

DnD Descent into Avernus Cover.jpg

Readers of my first impressions review were concerned that first-level characters would be hopelessly outclassed in the first plane of hell. However, since BG: DIA recommends milestone experience, PCs should be 5th level when they help survivors of Elturel, which has been pulled into the first layer of the lower planes, suspended by chains above the River Styx, then 7th level when they enter Avernus proper, and 13th level or higher when they try to return to Baldur's Gate – assuming they live that long. Even at 7th level, the adventure is a challenge, but they at least have a chance.

While BG: DIA is designed to be self-contained, it would be very wise for DMs to read the Blood Wars section of MToF's. Players can, too, but personally, I'd rather have the DM give the players relevant background material based on what their characters would know. Of special note is the information on Zariel, who was once an angel of Mount Celestia but now rules Avernus, having been corrupted while watching the Blood Wars rage. Impetuous, she eventually dove into battle there with her followers, convinced they could wipe its evil and claim the plane for good. She was wrong. Asmodeus found her unconscious under a pile of her conquests. When she recovered, he gave her dominion over Avernus and named its prior ruler, Bel, her lieutenant. The stats for Zariel in BG: DIA and MToF match, but the later provides a lot of personality information that are useful for DMs. BG: DIA has essential background but it's better to use both.

Before the start of BG: DIA, the city of Elturel has disappeared, pulled into the lower planes. The chaos this causes for Baldur's Gate as refugees flee toward it leads to the Flaming Fist pressing the first-level characters into service. From there, players are drawn deeper into the mystery while gaining XP. Besides freeing Eltural, if nothing is done, Baldur's Gate could share the same fate as that city.

While not exactly a sandbox adventure, BG: DIA it's not a railroad plot either. The players could achieve their goals any number of ways, though all are likely to be difficult and force them to make hard decisions.

For example, Avernus is a huge wasteland (though once it appeared to be a paradise that Asmodeus used to tempt and corrupt people) fraught with danger so faster transportation is a benefit. Enter infernal war machines. Taken just at their artwork and stat blocks, infernal war machines are very cool and provide a framework that DMs could use for a variety of homebrew situations, especially if they change the fuel source.

In BG: DIA though, the fuel source are soul coins, which are the currency in hell, created by Adam Lee and his team. Soul coins can be used in a variety of ways and after their three charges are expended, the soul trapped within is released to whatever afterlife, god they served or appropriate alignment plane (DM's call) applies. When used to fuel an infernal war machine, though, the soul screams as it is trapped in the engine, fueling the vehicle and when it's fully consumed, the soul is utterly destroyed beyond even divine intervention. When using an infernal machine is essential to whatever plan players come up with, how do good party members react to using soul coins to fuel it?

Individual and group party alignment will likely make a difference in how challenges are faced. If this is played outside of D&D Adventurer's League alignment rules, an evil party could use the opportunities to make deals to attain power but that's such an obvious approach it's almost boring. The moral conflicts built into BG: DIA are much more challenging. One option to tie the group together is the Dark Secret device. At character creation the group, with the DM's input, makes secret they're all hiding but at least one other person knows. Tables are provided to guide the process, and they could be easily adapted for other campaigns.

DnD Descent_into_Avernus_AltCvr_back.jpg

As appropriate for an adventure involving devils and demons, BG: DIA contains lots of opportunities for scheming, including possibly cutting a deal with Joe Manganiello's character from Critical Role: Force Grey, Arkhan the Cruel. The Dragonborn oathbreaker paladin now serves Tiamet, who is trapped in Avernus. The queen of evil dragons is capable of freeing Elturel but for what cost? Arkhan is obsessed with freeing his goddess, even taking on the Hand of Vecna in the hopes that its power can help him do it. Readers of my initial review wondered if this was just a stunt appearance because Manganiello is a celebrity, but I wouldn't label it that way. Lee and Manganiello worked out a reasonable plot thread that adds a layer of options and complications to the adventure.

BG: DIA contains a lot of good, useful information on role-playing devils, infernal contracts, archdevil charms (including one that will remind you a little of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), life in the Nine Hells and more. Again, that material could be used for homebrew campaigns even if you don't run BG: DIA as written.

Stylistically, BG: DIA is as opposite Waterdeep: Dragon Heist as you can get. The latter required subtlety and killing everything in sight inevitably led to a confrontation with the city watch. BG: DIA doesn't have the same restraints but a reckless murder fest could still have serious in-game consequences. It's definitely more epic than W: DH and with Zariel having a 26 CR, among other high-level opponents, it's definitely challenging.

If you like infernal adventures or opportunities to smite evil, BG: DIA is for you. Even without that the material on Baldur's Gate, soul coins, infernal war machines, etc. could make it worthwhile.
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

Parmandur

Legend
Not all of them. The one that grants servant's is still useful, hypothetically.

I'm curious as to what tie in Adventures AL will do, will high level ones be in BG, Avernus, or will it be a mix of the two.

Also curious as to how many spoilers for BG3 are going to be in the book, like will we find out who takes over Avernus if Zariel is redeemed.

One thing I wish we learned is, what happens to the infernal contracts signed with Zariel if she gets redeemed, are they all null and void, to the souls automatically go with her too Heaven, what happens? That could tie up Hell's courts for ages.
I'm guessing the video game will lightly touch on Avernus, if at all.

I'm guessing AL will focus on the city, using the Gazeeter info and the Dead Three cults.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
Quite a bit. We get stat blocks for a bunch of Dead Three Cultists, and a fair amount of lore on them. One of the big things is that because the Sundering limited the gods ability to interfere with mortal affairs and directly influence events, the revived Dead Three decided not to go along with it.

The Dead Three gave up most of their power to so they could remain on Toril in their weaker avatars. This makes them vulnerable to being killed, but they still possess god powers and unlike the other gods can freely meddle with world.
I really liked the Dead Three cultists - you get a very nice mix of straight-up frontline fighters, sneaky assassins and caster types, and the alliance between the three cults means you can create mixed strike forces suitable for various low level threats. It's one of those sets of stat blocks that feels like it took the best traditions of 4e encounter-building.

Bhaal cultists make their targets vulnerable to piercing damage, Bane cultists have advantage on saving throws and ability checks in combat, Myrkul cultists have their spells and potentially some undead backup at higher levels. They're nice toys in the toolbox for adventures in the city.

The Dungeon of the Dead Three details the flavourful altars of the Three.

You could definitely plug this material into some other BG-centric adventure.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
I'm guessing the video game will lightly touch on Avernus, if at all.

I'm guessing AL will focus on the city, using the Gazeeter info and the Dead Three cults.
I'm seeing a few DM Guild adventures latching onto the link between the sinister parts of the Feywild, and Avernus. That's another angle that could work. Night hags and their allies seem to like hanging out in Hell...
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Okay this adventure is insane. The back story is insane. There are references to
Hellraiser and Citizen Kane.

Gargauth is in this in hidden shield form.
Which means cameos out the ass.


Most importantly. KNEEL BEFORE ZODGE!!!
 

Eubani

Explorer
Why would you want to do away with soul coins. I mean souls are the main currency in hell and Hell should be hard and full of wrong with many temptations to make things easier, gain power, etc. Watering The Nine hells takes away from the location, story and also lessens the struggle against the evil it represents.
 
Why would you want to do away with soul coins. I mean souls are the main currency in hell and Hell should be hard and full of wrong with many temptations to make things easier, gain power, etc. Watering The Nine hells takes away from the location, story and also lessens the struggle against the evil it represents.
I think for some the complaint is that there is cool stuff in the adventure essentially inaccessible to Good characters.
 

Eubani

Explorer
they can fall to the temptation or find a way around, the fact that the temptation is so cool means it is done well given the circumstance. Maybe if they don't want to pay with souls they can …...strike a bargain.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I think for some the complaint is that there is cool stuff in the adventure essentially inaccessible to Good characters.
Well, this adventure by design offers a lot more than soul coin hot rods in it that a character of unflinching, uncompromising "good" wont be able to abide ornparticipate in. So, for some groups this adventure may need tweaking to make it more suitable to their tastes.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
they can fall to the temptation or find a way around, the fact that the temptation is so cool means it is done well given the circumstance. Maybe if they don't want to pay with souls they can …...strike a bargain.
Well, yeah if cutting a bargain with infernals is allowed within whatever flavor of good they are using.
 

PsyzhranV2

Explorer
It seems that they can be powered by Demon ichor, so killing Demons for fuel is the ethical way forward. Which is hilarious to me typed out.
You can't run a car off of NOS alone; it'll put the enginge into overdrive, but you still need gasoline for it to combust. From my reading of the War Machine rules, Demon Ichor willl give your vehicle a speed boost, but you need to use a Soul Coin to start the engine in the first place, otherwise you aren't going anywhere.
 

gyor

Adventurer
You can't run a car off of NOS alone; it'll put the enginge into overdrive, but you still need gasoline for it to combust. From my reading of the War Machine rules, Demon Ichor willl give your vehicle a speed boost, but you need to use a Soul Coin to start the engine in the first place, otherwise you aren't going anywhere.
Nothing in it says you can't just use the demon ichor by itself, it doesn't actually address what happens if you try to just use Demon Ichor hypothetically another fuel. Or an Animate Object spell on it. Or have Phantom Steeds pull it.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
Well, this adventure by design offers a lot more than soul coin hot rods in it that a character of unflinching, uncompromising "good" wont be able to abide ornparticipate in. So, for some groups this adventure may need tweaking to make it more suitable to their tastes.
Watch a couple of episodes of the A Team and this problem solves itself. The party just needs to do onto the paladin what the rest of the A Team did to BA to get him to fly.....
 

gyor

Adventurer
I really liked the Dead Three cultists - you get a very nice mix of straight-up frontline fighters, sneaky assassins and caster types, and the alliance between the three cults means you can create mixed strike forces suitable for various low level threats. It's one of those sets of stat blocks that feels like it took the best traditions of 4e encounter-building.

Bhaal cultists make their targets vulnerable to piercing damage, Bane cultists have advantage on saving throws and ability checks in combat, Myrkul cultists have their spells and potentially some undead backup at higher levels. They're nice toys in the toolbox for adventures in the city.

The Dungeon of the Dead Three details the flavourful altars of the Three.

You could definitely plug this material into some other BG-centric adventure.
You could also add Succubi and Cambions into that mix.

Maybe a Mummy Lord, Skull Lord, or Lich as well.
 

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